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24 September 2014
Science & Nature: TV & Radio Follow-upScience & Nature
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Taming The Problem Child
BBC2 9.00pm Thursday 8th March 2001

Dr Federici believes he can re-program problem children through strict controlHaley is almost six years old and out of control. She's one of a growing number of children with severe aggressive behavioural disorders. One minute she is hugging her mother, seconds later she is biting and punching her. Her parents have no idea what provokes her explosive rages but her aggression towards other children has put her on the verge of being withdrawn from school. Haley herself has no idea why she is violent. Her parents are desperate. Doctors have no answers.

Sergei is twelve years old. He is withdrawn, depressed and violent. He was adopted by an American family three years ago from a Russian orphanage. The only interaction Sergei has with his new family is through rage and regular attacks. Unless his behaviour changes, these adoptive parents will relinquish him and Sergei will end up back in another institution. As with Haley, no treatment, doctor or psychologist has provided a solution.

One man is offering a controversial solution. Dr Ron Federici is an American neuro-psychologist who has devised a treatment plan for even the most extreme cases of conduct-disordered children. He claims it is suitable no matter whether their behaviour lies in neurological or psychological problems. Dr Federici believes that his treatment guarantees two things. Firstly that there will be an 80% rate of improvement in most children. Secondly, that neither the parents nor the children will find it easy.

The film follows two families, one British and one American, as they start to implement the treatment programme under supervision of Dr Federici himself. For at least a month, each child must stay within three feet of their parents 24 hours a day. They have to be totally compliant to whatever their parents want, and if they refuse to obey they are forced down to the floor and held there. Their bedrooms are stripped bare. They are allowed no life of their own. They are never left alone; they are not allowed to play with or see friends. Through a gradual process of reward and punishment the child will eventually be reintroduced to their toys, their peers and the outside world. The treatment can last for months.

At the end of this controversial regime the child's mind should have been literally re-programmed. Dr Federici claims this is the only way the child can progress to developing normal emotions. His critics believe this process may be damaging. But now, thousands of American families have been recommended by word of mouth to do the programme. The question is, does the treatment work and should it be applied?

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